IN the world today we often see people choosing to ignore the true meaning of the Christmas message. For many it is a very busy time of the year, with so many activities to rush between. Countless demands and pressures seem to be placed upon us, with a myriad of preparations to make. Within self-gratifying materialistic and consumer-driven societies many, sadly, will be caught on the arduous treadmill of Christmas parties, shopping and concerts.
Why, though, should that concern us? When asked which the greatest commandment was, Jesus replied ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments’ (Matthew 22:37-40 New International Version).
At a time of year characterised too often by excess and over-indulgence by those in the world fortunate to have so much, we have an opportunity to reflect on greater values and to think of those who cannot even dream of the many material things many of us take for granted.
The 17th-century English poet and cleric, John Donne, famously and correctly noted: ‘No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee’ (Meditation #17 from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions).
How easy it can be to pursue our own selfish pleasures while ignoring the plight of more than a quarter of the world’s population. We hear there are about 2.4 billion people living on less than US$2 per day with another 1.1 million or so forced to live on less than $1 a day. If you have ever tried to live on that amount of money, you will know what a monumental struggle it is. The reality is, of course, that a very significant proportion of the world’s population have to because, through no fault of their own, they have limited choices and opportunities.
We cannot remain unmoved or indifferent, and rightly are reminded: ‘We may be the only means that God has of touching people around us with his love, of relating to them his Word, of enabling them to discover his saving grace’ (taken from Jesus Now by Leslie Brandt). That is what Christ wants to do in and through you and me. In grasping that, we will approach the heart of what this Christmas celebration is really all about. In realising this deeper meaning, we are freed from focusing on our own wants and liberated to open our hearts to others who need to experience the beautiful message of Christmas through a kind and selfless gesture.
I do sometimes wonder how history will judge our generation. Most of us receive a better education than our forebears and have far more wealth and resources than at any time in human history. Yet the pain, suffering and deprivation of so many people continue to grow unchecked. If parochial and selfish ambitions continue to be relentlessly pursued our generation will be remembered not for any significant achievements but instead for greed. Let us never forget, therefore, that Christmas is far more than bright lights, parties, shopping and concerts!
More than 2,000 years ago, angels proclaimed the birth of a Saviour who would bring great joy for all the world. The reality was, of course, that when Jesus came, there was no room in the inn. As a result, the Saviour of the world was born in most humble surroundings. Could it be that amidst the bright lights of Christmas we too can fail to see the true light of the world – Jesus, the Son of God?
As we approach this Christmas so many years after Christ came and changed the course of human history, we still see too many people who, though lacking little materially, do not realise that there can be no Christmas without Christ.
God’s promise from long ago was realised with the birth of Jesus – God incarnate: ‘“…The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near”’ (Matthew 4:16, 17). The coming of this kingdom signalled a radical change in values and heralded the possibility of human nature being utterly transformed. In experiencing the dynamic Kingdom of God we begin to perceive the true light of Christmas.
‘How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given!’ wrote Phillips Brooks in the familiar carol. ‘So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his Heaven. No ear may hear his coming; but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.’
May this be so for you this Christmas, for the Light has come!
General André Cox